My Favorite 15 Things to do Cebu – Sights, Food, Get Around, Beaches
My Favorite 13 Things to do Cebu - Understand
Cebu is the third largest island in the Philippines and is growing by leaps and bounds, as it is such a good compromise between 'all-business Manila' and the 'all-vacation beach towns'. Cebu City (and the adjacent towns) are close to the beach (though traffic is snarling) and have newly-developed areas that look more like Singapore than the Philippines. If you go from the Cebu IT Park to the Ayala Mall (don't open your eyes in-between), all you can see are Singapore-style developments.
As with other cities in the Philippines, you can't roam around and discover places - you need to choose a specific location and go from place to place by Uber or your own car.
Cebu will remind you of Hawaii with the green hills towering behind the beach. Yes, it is messier but it is still a proper Pacific island experience.
If you have recently called United, Expedia or Orbitz customer services, chances are that you spoke to someone in Cebu, as the city is host to huge call centers (Teleperformance is the market leader), employing thousands for US customer service operations.
Cebu (and the Philippines itself) is extremely affordable, with the current 52/1 exchange rate to the US dollar.
Cebu has a tropical climate (it's just on the edge of that zone) and gets more rainfall in the Northern Hemisphere winter.
Generally, it feels 'cooler' than Singapore and rain usually occurs in the afternoon.
My Favorite 13 Things to do Cebu - Get Around
Grab drivers do a good job at navigating the epic gridlock in town. Most rides are under $3 in town (the airport is $5-$10). Cars are new and the drivers are generally very friendly.
The bad news is that there are basically no roads! The average speed is about 5 miles per hour for most times of the day and in rush hour it drops to 2 miles per hour! Yes, walking would be quicker but there are also no sidewalks!
You guessed it - there is no public transport, including trains (jeepneys are the private alternative).
Cebu has been developing quickly over the last 20 years but besides a few flyovers and some roads being repaved (which were even too small 30 years ago), nothing else has happened.
My Favorite 13 Things to do Cebu - Safety
Cebu had a big crime problem 15 years ago. But guess what... It is gone now that the city is so much richer. Pickpocketing and opportunity crime are still issues but if you take normal precautions you will be fine. Don't walk around at night, though, especially alone in the downtown area.
My Favorite 13 Things to do Cebu - Connectivity
We all believe that the Internet is slow and barely works in the Philippines - right? Things have changed and there are plenty of new undersea cables that connect the Philippines with the US West Coast. Many places now easily give you 10 Mbit of WiFi. The mobile phone networks are still congested but you can get LTE in many places and they usually have enough bandwidth.
My Favorite 13 Things to do Cebu - Pollution
Pollution is supposedly a huge problem (it is in Manila!) but Cebu has enough fresh winds to make it feel less threatening. If you leave the city proper, the air is clear.
My Favorite 13 Things to do Cebu - Sights
The big draw of the island is the beaches; However, they are not a quick drive from Cebu City (even though it is just a few miles to Lapu-Lapu). Plan 45-90 minutes for the drive.
Most of the Mactan area beaches are small coves that are part of a resort. There are really any free beaches (even the public ones have an entrance fee).
Most hotels sell day passes or you can ask if you can use the beach against a minimum consumption at the restaurant/ coffee shop . This typically worked for me. Note that prices are on US level inside the resorts.
Another popular spot is the coastal city of Moalboal, which is around 90km from Cebu City. Sunbathers are drawn to the pretty, sandy beaches and divers to the marine life and amazing coral wall that's directly offshore.
Bantayan Island is west of Cebu and is an island paradise famed for its sunrises and sunsets. Tourists come here for its fine, white, sandy beaches and to go scuba diving, free diving or snorkeling in the clear sea. From Cebu, it's a 3 or 4-hour bus ride plus an hour or two by boat.
Cebu Taoist Temple
The Cebu Taoist Temple is located in the Beverly Hills subdivision. Built in 1972, its entrance was designed as a replica of the Great Wall of China. You'll find a chapel, library, souvenir shop and wishing well inside and there are great views over downtown Cebu from the outside.
My Favorite 13 Things to do Cebu - Eat and Drink
It can be hard to find somewhat healthy, great food in the Philippines. However, there's a bunch of places to check out.
Abaca Baking Company (multiple locations)
This bakery and coffee chain is almost a proper third gen coffee shop. The morning buns are heavenly and the coffee is OK too. There are plenty of fresh juices as well. To top it off, the Crossroads location (easily the best) also has lightning-fast Internet.
There is also a full breakfast and lunch menu (with good sandwiches) and the staff are usually beyond friendly. What a find!
Yellow Cab Pizza (multiple locations)
Yes, it is a chain and it looks suspiciously like Pizza Hut. However, the company churns out some decent pizzas for a low price. If you need to feed several people, this is a safe bet!
Phat Pho (multiple locations)
The owners of Abaca also decided to start a pho chain; can it be any good? It's certainly not as fresh as in Vietnam but it is still tasty, spicy, warm goodness. I liked it and it's just $5 for a huge bowl in a restaurant environment!
Red Lizard Taqueria (several locations)
Red Lizard is yet another project of the owners of Abaca and Phat Pho. Red Lizard offer (somewhat original) Mexican cuisine. It is quite a bit off what you'd expect in taste but still pretty good and filling for under $5.
SaladStop! churns out good salads that I'd eat it anywhere in the world. It's not cheap though, at $8-$12 for a smallish salad.
Charcoal Boy Grilled And Oysters
I wasn't too sure what to expect but boy oh boy Charcoal Boy is a serious find. The little shop specializes in barbecued meats and seafood. I tried the chicken, fish and oysters and found them all done to perfection. It is also great value at just $3 for a meal (includes rice, soft drink and a small salad). I love this place and the craft beer they serve.
My Favorite 13 Things to do Cebu - Co-Working
Co-working is a big topic in Cebu and there are a number of co-working places, usually charging $5-$10 per day.
A SPACE Cebu
This place is chill and the staff are friendly. It is right next to the Crossroads Abaca Baking Company.
This cool co-working space is aimed at both students and workers, is open 24 hours a day, features high-speed Internet and they let you bring your own food and drink. What's not to like?
My Favorite 13 Things to do Cebu - Where to Stay
The Cebu Marriott recently left the chain but there is a brand new Radisson Blu in town.
I liked the Radisson Blu for its huge rooms and top-notch interior. However the pool/ outside area is just behind a busy road that is chocking with pollution and noise. There is a huge SM Mall right next door that can feed you.
Most of Cebu has pretty good $50 hotels on Expedia. Closer to the beach, there is a Mövenpick and a few more chains.
I tried the Mandarin Plaza and Quest Hotel, which are both close to Ayala Mall. Quest is more modern but the Mandarin Plaza has bigger rooms and both have very fast WiFi.